Advice Column, Parenting

The Myth of The Happy Family

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Your family is dysfunctional. I know you were hoping that if you just used the power of your mind or the power of positive thinking or the power of a decent spanking that it would come right. Or perhaps if you attended another inspirational seminar, read another parenting manual or engaged a few more childhood demons with your therapist. It won’t work.

Your family will never be at peace. That’s the bad news.

The good news is that everyone else’s family is dysfunctional too. When you look over at Mrs. Jones and think that she’s got it all sorted– that everyone in her home is always kind and loving and supportive and everything flows and nobody fights – it is an illusion (or a really good cover up).

It is time to shatter this fantasy of the happy family so that you can get on with living a less than perfect, but real (and fulfilling) life and you can stop judging yourself by unattainable standards.

Every family is ‘dysfunctional’. Every family has problems. Every family is made up of human beings who have all traits – the desirable and the undesirable, the hostile and the hospitable, the helpful and the hurtful. Every family has both war and peace.

If you look carefully you’ll find the beauty in this. Families, like life, contain a perfect balance of good and bad, elation and despair, order and chaos. Take any moment in your day and look at how effectively you are balancing each other out – the parents are fighting and the kids are getting along well; one parent is screaming at a child and the other parent is protecting them; one child is cooperating and listening and the other is rebelling and ignoring.

Show me the storm and I’ll find you the calm. Show me the calm and I’ll guarantee you a storm!

Each evening, before I go to sleep, I write in a little notebook beside my bed. I take note of everything I am grateful for in the day, and I also jot down the synchronicities I have observed. I look at things that have challenged me and see what was supporting me at that same moment; I observe the fights that have emerged and where the concurrent peace lay; I find out who was up and who was down at the same moments throughout the day.

If you take some time to see the balance always playing out in your family, you will be humbled by the perfection inherent in it. You will also stop labeling the war/fights/challenge/rebellion/chaos as bad and stop labeling the peace/playing/support/cooperation/order as good. All parts are necessary. In fact, growth occurs at the border of support and challenge. Both are essential. Both are what make a family enriching to all members.

So would you even want a happy, peaceful family if it meant no growth for your children or yourself? We all need to be challenged, to have our buttons pushed, to have a touch of tumult in order to mature and thrive and make the most of our short time on this planet. Our families are there to provide the fertile ground for growth and development. And we all know what fertile ground is full of!

Stop searching for the impossible and embrace what is. Your family, with its blend of war and peace, is a perfect interplay of opposites provided for your evolution and forward momentum. Love all sides and accept all traits. Embrace both the war and the peace and then you will stop reaching for the fantasy of a ‘happy family’ and love the reality of your family exactly as it is.

Your family is dysfunctional, and dysfunctional is precisely as it should be.

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